Last year the group of players that broke out at the quarterback position is going to be one that’s talked about for a long time. Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck all came in as rookies and ran their teams like they had been playing in the league for years. Colin Kaepernick in his second year came in to start for the 49ers as Alex Smith went down with injury and took the league by storm taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl. All four players for better or worse have raised the expectations for young quarterbacks forever. One question I often get is what qualifies as a “breakout” as it’s a term that is used rather frequently. For this series of articles, it is used in the context for younger players (based on tenure not age as you’ll see shortly) who could take their games to the next level in the upcoming season. This group obviously isn’t going to top what was done by last year’s crop, but the quarterbacks mentioned have what it takes to take their games to the next level this year and for the foreseeable future.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins: Most offseasons fans and pundits alike would be talking about how impressed they were by a rookie season like Tannehill’s. He showed all of the aspects you would want to see out of a franchise quarterback as a rookie and cut down on the turnovers as the year went on. Of his 13 interceptions, only one was thrown in his last five games.
All offseason, Tannehill has been receiving rave reviews from everyone who has seen him. From his knowledge of the offense, the way he’s carrying himself to interacting with teammates. It’s worth noting that as a quarterback he is still very raw as he was originally a receiver when he began his college career. With another offseason with the same coaching staff (a focal point in quarterback development that isn’t discussed enough), a legitimate deep threat in Mike Wallace, a solid option in Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller who when he can stay on the field is a nice option at tight end. The biggest concern will be if the offensive line can hold up but otherwise, the Dolphins looked poised for a playoff push and Tannehill is leading the charge.
Sam Bradford, Rams: It seems like Bradford has played longer than he really has but here he is entering year four. In terms of yards, touchdowns and limiting interceptions, last year was his best. Now he has his best supporting cast to date and should continue to improve on those numbers.
The two main additions in the passing game were Jared Cook and Tavon Austin. Both players have the type of game breaking ability Bradford has not had at his disposal up to this point in his career. Second year receiver Chris Givens showed last year he is a serviceable deep threat for Bradford and should continue in that roll. Third round pick Stedman Bailey could also have an impact in his rookie year while the raw second year wideout Brian Quick could also have a huge impact as a red zone threat.
Bradford in the past has also been behind a shaky offensive line but this unit is the strongest he’s played with. If Jake Long can regain his pre-injury form, it would be a huge plus for Bradford and the Rams offense. It’s also worth noting that for a player coming out of college known for his accuracy, Bradford has only completed at least 60 percent of his passes once. That should change this year as Bradford’s Rams try to compete in what could arguably be the toughest division in the league.
Brandon Weeden, Browns: Weeden does have the chance to breakout this season, but if anything this is a “make or break” season for him. Despite entering his second season, he will be turning 30 years old, the regime that drafted him is no longer in place and the new General Manager Michael Lombardi who was an analyst for NFL Network’s draft coverage last season made it clear he wasn’t the biggest Weeden fan. For those wondering, Lombardi isn’t just a TV personality who got the job. Before working with NFL Network he was the GM for the Raiders and had worked in front offices for years leading up to that.
One of the main reasons why Weeden could have struggled so much at times last year was due to adjusting to a completely new offensive philosophy. At Oklahoma State, Weeden was in the shotgun the majority of the time and was able to use his arm strength to make big time throws. He went from that to spending most of his time under center running Pat Shurmur’s west coast offense that is based primarily on timing. Now Weeden is in an offense that plays more to his strengths being run by Norv Turner who despite his shortcomings as a head coach has always been a highly respected offensive mind. The head coach Rob Chudzinski (also an offensive minded coach) when he was previously with the Browns made Derek Anderson a Pro Bowl quarterback. For being able to do that alone Chudzinski should be able to find work for the next ten to 15 years.
Along with the favorable scheme, Weeden also has his fair share of weapons around him. The offensive line is one of the league’s most underrated units and Trent Richardson, who has the skills to be a top tier running back option to open things up. He also has two receivers in Josh Gordon and Greg Little who if (this is a really big if for Gordon) they are willing to dedicate themselves to getting better while staying out of trouble, could be very productive players for years to come. The Browns actually have a nice start to a solid nucleus in place and if Weeden is able to capitalize on his strengths, the Browns could make their leap sooner rather than later.